Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The inevitable results of a government grown beyond its limits

Commentary by James H. Shott

There are tens of thousands of pages of federal laws and regulations, so many that every living person has broken at least one. And our devoted regulators and legislators annually churn out roughly 80,000 pages of new and proposed regulations to justify their jobs, producing a stack 23 feet high if you piled those pages on top of each other.

These edicts range from how much water your toilet uses, to replacing incandescent bulbs with “newer, better,” costlier ones containing toxic mercury, to regulating dust on farms, to the EPA water quality standards allowing so little conductivity that they make apple juice, Gatorade and Evian and Perrier bottled water harmful, as well as a long list of crimes, both serious and trivial.

This hyper-activity punishes and imposes enormous costs on individuals, businesses and state and local governments, costs that are ultimately borne by consumers and taxpayers.

One example of how regulations can negatively affect a business is the case of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. As detailed by Fox Business Network host John Stossel, “One rule that just went into effect, which you can find by flipping to page 56,236 of the 2010 regulations, will require all hotels with a pool -- or a hot tub -- to install wheelchair accessible ramps or lifts into the water.”

Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the hotel already had portable ramps that can assist handicapped people. But resort manager Greg Miller said the ramps have not been used in 15 years. Now, the Department of Justice has decided that the portable ramps are not adequate, and has mandated that permanent ramps be installed, which Mr. Miller said will cost about $40,000 for every pool and hot tub on the premises. But there is an alternative: pay a $55,000 fine for each pool and hot tub.

Mr. Stossel’s report continues: “Regulators admit that it's likely that fewer people will use pools with ramps in them ‘because the new requirements for a sloped entry might make the pool too shallow.’"

A lot of folks regard this as somewhat academic because they aren’t directly affected, and to really bring home how out of control our once limited federal government has grown, you have to actually feel the pain. And while low-flow toilets and expensive CFL light bulbs help understanding this in some small way, they fail to fully illustrate the pain of unfunded federal mandates.

For a starker dose of reality, consider the plight of the City of Bluefield, West Virginia, where the royal pains of too much government are being felt.

The City is the proud owner of Mitchell Stadium, a 10,000 seat football venue that has been around since 1935. It is the site of football games for local middle school and high school teams, and for other events like open air concerts, fund raising walks and other outdoor activities. It will be the home field for Bluefield College when its re-established football team begins playing regular season games this fall.

The City receives income from the two county school systems whose teams use the stadium, which helps defray expenses, and over the years expensive improvements and upgrades to the facility, like the new playing surface a few years back, often have been funded with private money.

But now the City must make upgrades to the stadium to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-million dollars. This new mandate came along when someone filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, which apparently hasn’t enough really important things to do, or has so many people working there that they could send someone right out and investigate the complaint, then issue orders to the City to either make the necessary modifications ASAP, or the DOJ will padlock Mitchell Stadium.

During the vast majority of events the stadium is far from full, and in fact, standing-room-only is a rare thing. So, it’s a fair question just how many people will really benefit from a half-million bucks of improved access for disabled visitors. The ADA called for modifying the entrance ramps from the parking lot up to the gates, and accommodating 67 wheel chairs inside the stadium. Apparently, even though there have likely never been 67 wheelchair-bound people attending an event at the same time, or even close to that number, the facility must be ready to accommodate them, just in case.

Owning and operating a football stadium is not normal for a city like Bluefield, and the City would rather not be in that business. But there are no options for transferring ownership to someone else, and the City understands that allowing the federal government to shut down Mitchell Stadium is not acceptable, so somehow it will have to come up with $500,000 this summer to keep the facility open.

This is what happens when there’s too much government. Be thankful we don’t get all that we pay for.

The good people of Bluefield and the surrounding area should keep this foolishness in mind when they go to the polls in November.

Cross-posted from Observations

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